Volunteers of East Los Angeles, “VELA” Founded in 1986, Incorporated in 2001 is a 501c3 non-profit organization.
It is through the diverse dedication of our Board of Directors, Staff and valued Volunteers that VELA truly demonstrates to be “The Light of the Community”.
Volunteers of East Los Angeles Founder
Elena Valencia was born September 14, 1931 in Boyle Heights and passed away June 18, 2005 in East Los Angeles. She was the youngest of eighteen brothers and sisters. Elena Valencia came from a very humble and poor family that taught her the value of Perseverance and Survival.
She worked at SEARS ROEBUCK Company for twenty three years. It was here that she established a “name” for herself through her joyful antics and optimistic spirit. Elena’s boss declared her to be the official “Staff Morale Booster” since she was known to bring the spirit of any and all holidays into the office. She quickly established a reputation for being fun, silly, daring and creative.
Elena’s alter ego, Cha-Cha the Clown, was a creation of hers during her years with SEARS. Cha-Cha not only became famous throughout her office, but her notoriety quickly spread beyond the confines of the work place and into her community. Cha-Cha was ever present during various fundraisers and special events. She still managed to find time to volunteer with the Special Olympics and other organizations. One of her debut appearances as Cha-Cha the Clown was during a bicycle ride for the American Diabetic Association on Los Angeles.
The loss of her three children became the driving force for her community involvement and acted as her catalyst for the volunteer work that would follow. Elena became involved with the Latin American Professional Women’s Association; she became the 1st “Big Sister” of the Association Mentorship Program and implemented community outreach programs, public relations and fundraising for the group.
This led her to pursue employment with one of the volunteer organizations she was already involved with, The East Los Angeles Remarkable Citizen’s Association (EL ARCA). She joined the EL ARCA staff in 1884 and stayed there for two years. During her time there she was instrumental in initiating the first Folklorico Group, the first Girl Scout Troop for disabled girls and the first Chorale.
By way of luck a new opportunity to learn and expand her horizon knocked on her door. Elena was offered a position with prominent State Senator to be a Caseworker for the city of Los Angeles. Elena worked for Senator David Roberti from 1986 to 1988. She was in her early fifties and one of the most seasoned and experienced individuals to come across the Senator’s staff. She utilized her past work with the disabled community and various nonprofit organizations to give her unique insight to help the constituents of the Senators District. The legislative experience opened up more avenues to advocate for the disabled community.
While working for Senator Roberti, Elena founded the Special Fun Games. This day long event unites physically and mentally challenged adults and children to participate in non-competitive games and activities. Since their creation the Special Fun games have grown increasingly popular. 2005 marked their twentieths anniversary. Elena’s Career in the field of Volunteerism climaxed when she became the Director of the East/NorthEast Branch of the Volunteer Center of Los Angeles (VCLA). Her office was based in East Los Angeles, a community that was very dear to Elena and where a lot of work needed to be done. During her years with VCLA Elena both participated and initiated various projects and programs in East Los Angeles that are still in operation today. These programs included Valentines for Vets, Navidad En El Barrio, and Christmas in East L.A.
While she initiated numerous projects during her stay at VCLA, she also introduced noteworthy national projects to East Los Angeles such as National Night Out, a crime prevention program and VELA’s Casa formerly know as Christmas in April, a program that fixes homes for low-income and the elderly.
In 2001, Elena’s long awaited goal to create a volunteer organization that serves the East Los Angeles Community came true. VELA “Light of the Community”.